UK Treasury chief promises to 'strike back' on cyber threat

LONDON (AP) " Britain's Treasury chief promised Tuesday that the U.K. will strike back against cyberattacks amid fears that state-sponsored hackers jeopardize society.

Philip Hammond outlined a 1.9 billion-pound ($2.3 billion) cybersecurity strategy, while underscoring that both government and private industry must act to thwart attacks from those who "seek to steal from us, threaten us or otherwise harm our interests."

Hammond did not hold back in illustrating the scale of the potential consequences of a cyberattack on the country.

"If we do not have the ability to respond in cyberspace to an attack which takes down our power networks, leaving us in darkness, or hits our air traffic control system, grounding our planes, we would be left with the impossible choice of turning the other cheek and ignoring the devastating consequences or resorting to a military response," Hammond said at a conference in London. "That is a choice we do not want to face."

Hammond did not specify which countries he considers threats, but the remarks come on the same day as the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, gave a highly unusual interview to the Guardian newspaper in which he accused Russia of using "propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyberattacks" to pursue its foreign policy abroad.

The combined forces of government action and media interjection did not go unnoticed in Moscow. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Russia had orchestrated cyberattacks in Britain.

"These words are false; we cannot agree with them," he said. "Until someone provides any evidence, all accusations " by the MI5 chief or the U.S. vice president or by any other top officials " we will treat these accusations as unfounded and unsubstantiated and we will not take them into consideration."

The programs announced by Hammond increase investment in a new generation of students and experts to improve security on smartphones, tablets and laptop computers in hopes of one day making passwords themselves obsolete.

The new cyber strategy comes as law enforcement and intelligence agencies seek increased powers to monitor online activity.

The struggle has been over how to balance personal freedom with government efforts to thwart criminals, whether they be terrorists, hackers or state-sponsored actors.

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, told the BBC on Tuesday that the government has to be accountable.

"Typically the government will tend to always trust itself more than we should trust it, so typically governments will give themselves more power," he said. "Making sure that the judge is always in the loop when the police are given access to personal data is really, really important."


Associated Press Writer Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this story.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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